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When war broke out in Britain in 1914, the country had no compulsory military service and therefore no huge conscript army like other European countries. Britain was to rely on a small professional force.
A campaign began to sign up volunteers with slogans like:
YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU!
World War One
Recruiting poems were written and published in papers to encourage young men to go to war:
What will you lack, sonny, what will you lack When the girls line up the street, Shouting their love to the lads come back From foe they rushed to beat? Will you send a strangled cheer to the sky And grin till your cheeks are red? But what will you lack when your mate goes by With a girl who cuts you dead?
Brooke deeply believes that he is on the side of the righteous because that is what he has been told.
A German writer, Remarque, wrote a novel called All Quiet on the Western Front, based on the German experience of World War I. Here is an extract:
"I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another." Chapter 10.
Do you think the Germans believed they were on the ‘wrong side’ as Brooke suggests they are?
Do you agree with Brooke’s view of war?
Why do you think he wrote such poems before he had even been to the front lines to fight?
The remains of a German soldier, November 1916
Although recruiting poems and poems reflecting the chivalry of war were very popular at the time, the poems from World War I which have had a lasting power over us are those poems which express the horrors and realities of war.
Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are the most well known of such poets.
Siegfried Sassoon was appalled by the pointlessness of war and began a crusade against it through letters and poems. He became a friend of Wilfred Owen when the two men met at a hospital for victims of shellshock.
Does it matter? – losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Can you find any similarities between this poem and Owen’s poetry?